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Self-indulgence is Denial of Christ

Johann Gerhard

(Translated by Rev. C. W. Heisler, A.M.)

“IF any man will come after Me let him deny himself” (Matt. xvi. 24), says our Saviour. To deny oneself is to renounce self-love; self-love hinders the love of God in the soul. If thou wouldst be a disciple of Christ it is necessary that the root of self-love should wholly die in thee. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die” it beareth no fruit (John xii. 24); and so likewise the fruit of the Holy Spirit cannot appear in thy life unless self-love die in thy heart. The Lord said unto Abraham (Gen. xii. 1) “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee.” Abraham could never have become so great a prophet if he had not first forsaken his own land; and so thou wilt never become a true disciple of Christ nor a truly spiritual man, unless thou dost first withdraw thyself from the love of thyself. Jacob became lame of one foot in his struggle with the angel, whilst the other remained well and sound. By these two feet we may figuratively understand a two-fold love, the love of self and the love of God; a man becomes a partaker of the divine blessing, when he becomes disabled in that one foot, that is, when the love of self is destroyed; while the other foot remains sound and whole, that is, while the love of God abides in his heart. It is impossible for thee to look up to the sky and down to the ground with the same eye at the same time; so no one can with the same will love himself inordinately and God at the same time. Love is the highest good of the soul; it must therefore be rendered as a grateful tribute to the Highest Good, that is, to God.

Thy love is thy God; that is, whatever thou lovest most deeply thou puttest in the place of God. Whatever thou lovest best, thou judgest to be the best and most worthy of love. But God is really the highest Being. He who loves himself therefore makes a god of himself, puts self in the place of God, which is the worst form of idolatry. What thou lovest most is to thee an end of all things, and the ultimate fruition of all desires. But God alone is the beginning and the end to all created things. He Himself is the first and the last (Is. xliv. 6). He alone satisfies the desires of our hearts, and no mere creature whatsoever can fully satisfy them. Thou oughtest therefore to prefer the love of God to the love of self. “God is the Beginning and the Ending” (Rev. i. 8); hence our love ought to begin and end in Him. The essence of God is apart from and beyond all creatures; as from all eternity He has been God in Himself alone; withdraw thy love then from all creatures and fix it upon God. As thy love is, so will thy deeds be. If thy deeds are inspired by a true faith in God and love for Him, they are pleasing to God and of great account in His eyes, however insignificant they may be in the eyes of men. If on the other hand they are inspired by self-love, they never can be pleasing to God. Love of self will mar the most excellent works thou canst perform. When Christ was in the house of Simon (Matt. xxvi. 6), a certain woman broke a box of precious ointment and anointed the head of Christ. The act seemed small and insignificant, and yet it was pleasing to Christ, because it proceeded from true faith, pure love, and sincere contrition. Sacrifices were pleasing to God under the Old Testament dispensation; and yet God was greatly displeased that Saul (1 Sam. xv. 19) set apart the spoil taken from the Amalekites to be offered in sacrifice, because he did not do this out of pure love for God. If he had really loved God he would not disobediently have despised the command of God to devote all this spoil to destruction. He loved himself, and thought more of his devotions than of his God. Love is a sort of fire; for thus the Church prays, “Come, Holy Spirit, kindle the flame of Thy love in the hearts of Thy faithful people.” A kindled fire is not content to lie upon the ground, but the sparks always fly upwards. So thy love ought not to rest in thyself and terminate there, but it ought to wing itself upward to God.

To deny one’s self is, moreover, to renounce one’s own honor. But our highest honor ought to be connected with the highest good alone, and God is that highest good. If we seek our own glory we cannot seek God’s glory, as the Saviour said to the Pharisees, “How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another” (John v. 44)? Behold the example of Christ, and follow that; He frequently declares of Himself that He seeks not His own glory (John viii. 50), that He receives not honor of men (John v. 41), that He is lowly in heart (Matt. xi. 29). Thou receivest all from God, render in return all to Him. All the streams of blessing we enjoy flow from the fountain of divine goodness; hence all the good we have ought to be borne back again into that ocean of divine love. The sunflower is said to be always turning itself toward the sun from which it draws its life and nourishment. So do thou, with all thy gifts and all thy honor, keep always turning thyself to God, and give no honor to thyself. If thou hadst anything of thyself then thou mightest seek thine own honor, and bestow thy gifts upon thyself; but since all thou hast cometh from God, thou shouldst seek not thine own honor, but His. To honor thyself turns thee away from God. Nebuchadnezzar is an example of this when he said, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty” (Dan. iv. 30)? But what follows? “While the word was in the King’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; the kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field” (Dan. iv. 31, 32). So if thou gloriest in thy good works as the product of thine own honor and pride, and givest not the glory of them to God alone, He will cast thee away from His presence forever.

Finally to deny one’s self is to renounce one’s own will. We ought always obey that will which is supremest and best, and that is God’s. We ought to obey His will from whom we receive all things (1 Cor. iv. 7); but all things come down to us from God. We ought to obey his will who always leads us in the way of life and goodness; but it is God’s will that always so leads us. “Delight thyself also in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Ps. xxxvii. 4). Our own will leads us to death and condemnation. How did our first parents fall from the grace of God and their holy estate into eternal condemnation? Disregarding God’s will they followed their own, disobeyed God’s command, and gave heed to the devil’s counsel. Hence the true disciple of Christ, renouncing his own will, desires to follow that of God. Behold Christ, thy Saviour; in the agony of His awful passion He lays His own will on the altar as a most pleasing sacrifice unto God; and so do thou offer up thine own will unto God, and thou shalt indeed accomplish that which Christ requires of thee as a disciple, the denial of thine own self.

May Thy holy will, O Lord, be done on earth as it is in heaven.

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